Why Socialism? Essay by Albert Einstein May 1949 - Politics Forum.org | PoFo

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As either the transitional stage to communism or legitimate socio-economic ends in its own right.
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I would like to discus this normally ignored essay of Einstein, because capitalism is even worser today and especially the negative psychological effects of capitalism Einstein is describing here, are in my opinion not sufficiently described by old and modern Marxists. However, also the description of Einstein is too short and superficial I think. I will come back to this later.

I actually would like to include the text of the short essay here. This would make it easier to drag and drop parts for discussion. However, I am not sure if any copyright issues may make this obsolet. Perhaps anyone who knows if it is possible or how could ask there, if we can use the text here in non-commercial manner.

The original essay can be found here:


By anticlimacus
The individual has become more conscious than ever of his dependence upon society. But he does not experience this dependence as a positive asset, as an organic tie, as a protective force, but rather as a threat to his natural rights, or even to his economic existence. Moreover, his position in society is such that the egotistical drives of his make-up are constantly being accentuated, while his social drives, which are by nature weaker, progressively deteriorate. All human beings, whatever their position in society, are suffering from this process of deterioration.

I have often thought this myself. But I think it is only partially true. In fact, I think it is mostly institutionally true. In everyday life people long for community and often attempt to foster it. Perhaps what Einstein is getting at is this: that modern institutions (educational, political, economic, etc.) demand a confrontation bewteen the institution and the isolated individual. Thus individuals, in public life, are often only able to connect via the mediation of massively anonymous bureaucratic institutions--through that mediation alone can individuals find any public commonality. Privately, individuals are free to meet and connect with whomever they please; and these relationships are what make life meaningful. But the public level is purely formal and anonymous and, in fact, discourages the face to face "human" relations that we delegate to private life. Thus, on the one hand, we have a very robust capacity and longing to connect and foster relationships on the private level; but, on the other, a very cold and anonymous public sphere that fragments human connections.

This, I believe, leads to apathy. Individuals feel confronted by a massive system that seems to exist all on its own, to which they really can play no influential part. It--governments, educational systems, economic order, etc.--seems to run on its own and for its own sake without regard to community and the fostering of social relationships and culture. Institution after institution takes this bureaucratic model that operates off of sheer efficiency and calculation, typically without regard to quality or local needs, at the expense of meaningful human relationships. Indeed this model increasingly becomes the method of modern social organization in general.

Capitalism is a big part of this, no doubt, but I cannot agree that it has everything to do with it (the USSR, for instance, was not a capitalist state, and yet it had a massively oppressive bureucratic order). Rather, as Weber concluded, the development of bureaucracy helped make capitalism what it is today--and vice versa. The development of the modern situation is multi-faceted--and socialists need to recognise this. Socialism cannot be just a political endeavor that seeks to overcome capitalism, and so to continually define itself off of what it is against--particularly in defining itself as the economic counterpart to capitalism as Einstein seems to have done in this essay.

P.S. I wouldn't worry about copyright with the Monthly Review...as long as you we have supplied the link to where this comes from, I think it's fine. After all, Monthly Review would probably be happy that we are discussing one of their articles.
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By Negotiator
You are confusing the economy and the government.

The core problem of capitalism is the exploitation of dependend workers. The exploitation of dependend workers needs these two ingredients:
- investments (money or other valueables that are spend to make more money) and
- people who are not able any more to provide for themselves, especially without access to production machinery.

Neither of these concepts depends upon the existence of a bureaucracy.

So capitalism doesnt need any bureaucracy, and neither does bureaucracy need capitalism - as you yourself proved by giving the USSR as an example.

Also, I would like to hear an explanation of you how exactly you're planning to run a large country without an administration, i.e. without a bureaucracy. The issue with bureaucracy is how it is organized, not that it exists.

I disagree with Einstein that the only way to avoid the evils of capitalism is a planned economy. I think more free models, such as Anarchosyndicalism, where production is owned by unions of the workers who work with them, might work as well.
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Einstein did, in fact, later change his mind about planned economies after learning more about the Soviet Union. He was always a socialist though.
By anticlimacus

I'm not making the confusion you claim. Allow me to clarify.

First I don't argue that the only problem is capitalism. I also don't argue that capitalism needs bureaucracy. And neither does bureaucracy need capitalism. The particular mixing of the two in their historical production in the West is what I am talking about--this approach is more Weberian than Marxist, or a good mix of both, considering I think private property and the private appropriation of production ought to be abolished, and the mode of production has certainly come to dominate much of the West.

I also never argued that the problem is bureaucracy any more than argue that capitalism is the problem with the modern West. I argued, along Habermasian lines, that the particular systematic order, including both the media of economy and state administration, serves to alienate and fragment discourse in the public sphere which creates apathy and estrangement from participation in the shaping of public life. I have no problem with administration. I have a problem with the fact that the administration is not democratic, but in fact tends to take the place of democratic discourse. The bureaucratic model runs off capitalist models of efficiency and calculation for its own sake and the capitalist system becomes more pervasive through modern bureaucratic orders--they play off each other and serve to divide public and private life in such a way that public life becomes a realm of pure anonymity, the value merely of quantity at the expense of content, and private life becomes the fragmented sphere of "personal" lifestyle and opinion. This means that public discourse becomes increasingly a quantitative matter, and what matters substantively to people in everyday life increasingly becomes a matter of efficiency and calculation, controlled by a system quite foreign to them that they have little say or control over. This rather than attention to particular needs and desires expressed through autonomous discourse.

What I would strive for is an administration and production in which people have more direct control through substantive deliberative processes--I think modern society presents us, by and large, with the antithesis of this.

The economic anarchy of capitalist society as it exists today is, in my opinion, the real source of the evil. We see before us a huge community of producers the members of which are unceasingly striving to deprive each other of the fruits of their collective labor—not by force, but on the whole in faithful compliance with legally established rules. In this respect, it is important to realize that the means of production—that is to say, the entire productive capacity that is needed for producing consumer goods as well as additional capital goods—may legally be, and for the most part are, the private property of individuals.

For the sake of simplicity, in the discussion that follows I shall call “workers” all those who do not share in the ownership of the means of production—although this does not quite correspond to the customary use of the term. The owner of the means of production is in a position to purchase the labor power of the worker. By using the means of production, the worker produces new goods which become the property of the capitalist. The essential point about this process is the relation between what the worker produces and what he is paid, both measured in terms of real value. Insofar as the labor contract is “free,” what the worker receives is determined not by the real value of the goods he produces, but by his minimum needs and by the capitalists’ requirements for labor power in relation to the number of workers competing for jobs. It is important to understand that even in theory the payment of the worker is not determined by the value of his product.

Production is carried on for profit, not for use. There is no provision that all those able and willing to work will always be in a position to find employment; an “army of unemployed” almost always exists. The worker is constantly in fear of losing his job. Since unemployed and poorly paid workers do not provide a profitable market, the production of consumers’ goods is restricted, and great hardship is the consequence. Technological progress frequently results in more unemployment rather than in an easing of the burden of work for all. The profit motive, in conjunction with competition among capitalists, is responsible for an instability in the accumulation and utilization of capital which leads to increasingly severe depressions. Unlimited competition leads to a huge waste of labor, and to that crippling of the social consciousness of individuals which I mentioned before.


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